Junior Grace McKay leans on faith in return to competitive running

Abby Waechter | Managing Editor

Assisted by Divy Bose and Savannah Libby

Ten months ago, Grace McKay was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. On November 6, 2021, she was Mason’s top finisher at the cross country state final. 

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system, and usually are indicated through the growth and forming of masses on a person’s body. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma typically is the result of a change to the DNA of a lymphocyte, which is a type of white blood cell, and is also “one of the most curable forms of cancer.”

In early January, McKay noticed a “small lump” on her neck, which consequently resulted in numerous visits to her doctor’s office, and eventually to her diagnosis on January 25, 2021. Concerned for numerous reasons following her diagnosis, McKay said that she wanted one aspect in her life to remain constant, running. 

“The first thing I asked my doctor after being diagnosed was if I was going to be able to run through my treatment,” Mckay said. “They told me to not get my hopes up, and that the [upcoming cross country] season would probably be for more fun than anything.”

After finishing chemotherapy, McKay was determined to test her limits going into the 2021-2022 cross country season, as she had already missed running during the 2020-2021 track season. 

“I was motivated when I was done with treatment to get back into running without any interruptions,” McKay said. “I didn’t care how hard it was going to be, I just wanted to do it.” 

Despite both doctors and her parents telling her not to expect much out of her junior season, McKay managed to not only become one of the varsity team’s most valued runners, but she also shaved 44 seconds off of her best time from 2020. McKay said that she was happily surprised with her performances over the course of the 2021 season given that she went into it with an open mind set on building her strength back up again.

“It was a huge shock that I was able to run as well as I did this season,” McKay said. “I was really thankful and trusted in God so that this season would happen for me.” 

Throughout her life, the McKay family has relied heavily on their faith.  After her diagnosis, the McKay family leaned further into their faith to help sustain them through Grace’s journey. Grace’s father, Dan McKay, who is also a teacher at Mason High School (MHS), said that throughout her treatment, they continued to practice the meaningful ways of their faith. 

“During her treatment, we continued to pray daily and read Scripture a lot to really focus on not being afraid of what was in front of us,” McKay said. “We focused on living each day, relying on God and putting our trust in him to get us through it.” 

When McKay started the 2021-2022 cross country season, expectations were set on primarily using the season to build up her endurance after her treatment in preparation for her senior season. With every meet, McKay shocked her coaches as well as her parents in every aspect from finishing to eventually finishing first for the Comet’s at the state final. 

Dan McKay said that every time he saw his daughter defy the expectations set by those around them filled him with an overwhelming sense of pride in her. 

“To see Grace up there on the podium reminds me of the effort from her and the whole community of her doctors and all of those who fundraise for Cancer Research,” McKay said. “Her whole story comes together in that moment when she stands up there on that podium.” 

As Grace began to shatter her expectation of running to simply get into shape for senior season, she and her family began to attribute a majority of her successes to their faith in God. Dan McKay said that Grace’s progression in the 2021-2022 cross country season served as proof to him that faith never fails. 

“We read so much Scripture about how God keeps his promises and has He good plans for you,” McKay said. “So every time she races, it’s proof right in front of us, God’s promises were delivered.” 

Photo contributed by Aditya Thiyag